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Lyme Regis Fossil Festival 2016

PUBLISHED: 10:20 19 April 2016 | UPDATED: 10:20 19 April 2016

Young visitors to the Fossil Festival get up close with a huge ammonite

Young visitors to the Fossil Festival get up close with a huge ammonite


Can you tell an ichthyosaur vertebrae from a devil’s toenail? All will be revealed at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, says Hayley Jones

Now in its 10th year the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival (29 April to Sunday 1 May 2016) is one of Britain’s biggest and best fossil festivals. The annual event also celebrates the cultural and natural history of Lyme Regis, an area which has long been entwined with its fascinating Jurassic past, and provides a fantastic opportunity to learn about its fossils and geology. Lots of people go fossil hunting during the festival, and with experts on hand you can share your finds with other fossil fans. 

Let’s go fossil hunting

Visiting Mary Anning’s grave in St Michael’s churchyard is an excellent way to start your hunt. Mary Anning (1799 –1847) was a local fossil collector who made many important finds in Lyme Regis. Mary’s most famous discoveries were ichthyosaurs and plesiosaurs. Her scientific knowledge and skill in identifying, extracting and preparing fossils for sale led to her being recognised as a pioneer of palaeontology. People leave fossils in front of her headstone, so you can see what has recently been found on the beaches in and around Lyme Regis.

Follow the path through the churchyard and turn left at the bottom of the hill to reach the Undercliff, which is one of the best places to look for fossils. The beach was once a Jurassic sea bed, and over millions of years its marine creatures were compressed by later layers of rock to form fossils. The volatile nature of the Jurassic Coast means that fossils are often exposed through storms and landslides, In fact, the best time to fossil hunt is after a storm but never hunt under unstable cliffs or when the weather is wild.

Start your hunt by picking a small area of the beach – searching one small section methodically before moving on to the next section. Look for unusual shapes or patterns in the rocks. Knowing the types of fossils you are looking for is also helpful. You might see the edge of a fossil in a pebble, with the rest of the fossil buried inside the rock. Sometimes this can be revealed by carefully chipping off the layers of rock with a hammer, but if the pebble doesn’t split after a few attempts, you risk damaging the fossil. In this case, take it to a fossil specialist who can remove the layers of rock with more delicate tools. Fossil specialists can also advise you on the best way to clean and display your fossils, such as polishing them to show as much definition as possible.

Guided fossil walks, like the ones offered at Lyme Regis Fossil Festival, are a wonderful introduction to fossil hunting because you have the benefit of your guide’s expertise. At the end of your hunt, don’t forget to pass Mary Anning’s grave again and leave a specimen or two in honour of the woman who pioneered fossil hunting in Lyme Regis. 

Lyme Regis Fossil Festival supports STEM

The theme of this year’s Lyme Regis Fossil Festival is getting young people involved in STEM subjects: Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. In addition to the programme of fossil talks, there will be plenty of opportunities to learn about education courses and career options in these key subjects. A range of prestigious organisations will also be attending the Fossil Festival, including universities, the Natural History Museum, Jurassic Coast Trust, Jurassic World Heritage Site, Geological Society and British Antarctic Survey. While there is an emphasis on Earth sciences, a wealth of information will also be available to inspire anyone interested in STEM subjects. 

Fossil Festival Highlights

The Iguanodon Restaurant premieres at the 2016 Lyme Regis Fossil Festival. It is an innovative and interactive street performance which revolves around Iggy, a 30 foot Victorian Iguanodon.

The fossil marquee is free to enter and will be full of teams from the Fossil Festival’s partners offering displays and a variety of fun activities. These include fossil dough casting and an Antarctic small world play station from the Scott Polar Research Institute.

Fossil walks are scheduled throughout the festival. Why not follow in the footsteps of Mary Anning you might make some surprising discoveries of your own!

The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival runs from 29 April to Sunday 1 May. For details visit fossilfestival.co.uk.


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